Released on Tuesday, Dec. 29, the latest edition of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) quinquennial nutritional guidelines, which is updated every five years, includes specific recommendations for the diets of babies and toddlers for the first time. Here’s what parents need to know.
First, infants and toddlers should not consume any added sugars, given the strong link between childhood obesity and future chronic health problems. Once they reach two years of age, added sugars should be the source of 10 percent of a kid’s caloric intake at most.
A previous study found that infants and toddlers consume an average of one and six teaspoons, respectively, of added sugar each day. The silver lining is that eliminating five food categories sweetened beverages, desserts and sweet snacks, coffee and tea (with their additions), candy and sugars, and breakfast cereals and bars — is enough to reduce added sugars intake by 70 percent.
Saturated fats should similarly be limited to 10 percent of calories per day for kids at the age of two. A recommended sodium limit of 2,300 milligrams for kids under 14 is unchanged from the 2015 guidelines.
Most broadly, the guidelines specify “a healthy dietary pattern at every life stage.” From birth to six months, they define that as exclusively feeding kids human milk (or iron-fortified formula if it’s unavailable). At six months, “nutrient-dense” foods can be added, but human milk is still recommended as a part of babies’ diets through at least the first year.
“Potentially allergenic” foods like peanuts, eggs, cow’s milk (and products), tree nuts, wheat, soy, and shellfish should also be introduced around six months, as early exposure can reduce a child’s risk of developing a food allergy. Also recommended are vitamin D supplements starting soon after birth, as human milk is deficient in the key nutrient.
The guidelines are built on previous editions of the dietary recommendations and the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s scientific report, though many key quantitative changes recommended by scientists did not make it into the final recommendations. They will guide the actions of healthcare professionals and affect food provided through federal nutrition programs like WIC and the National School Lunch program, but parents can also use them to guide how they feed their own children.